Female hip-hop fan / FRII 12-9-16 / Sender of billet-doux / Song sung to Lilo in Lilo Stitch / Virginia Woolf's given name at birth

Friday, December 9, 2016

Constructor: David Phillips

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Mont Cervin (31A: Mont Cervin and others=>ALPES) —
The Matterhorn (German: Matterhorn, [ˈmatərˌhɔrn]; Italian: Monte Cervino, [ˈmonte tʃerˈviːno]; French: Mont Cervin, [mɔ̃ sɛʁvɛ̃]), is a mountain of the Alps, straddling the main watershed and border between Switzerland and Italy. It is a huge and near-symmetrical pyramidal peak in the extended Monte Rosa area of the Pennine Alps, whose summit is 4,478 metres (14,692 ft) high, making it one of the highest summits in the Alps and Europe. The four steep faces, rising above the surrounding glaciers, face the four compass points and are split by the Hörnli, Furggen, Leone and Zmutt ridges. The mountain overlooks the Swiss town of Zermatt in the canton of Valais to the north-east and the Italian town of Breuil-Cervinia in the Aosta Valley to the south. Just east of the Matterhorn is Theodul Pass, the main passage between the two valleys on its north and south sides and a trade route since the Roman Era. (wikipedia)
• • •

Barely there. Nothing horrible here, but nothing interesting either. I mean ... nothing. Not knocking MELISSA MCCARTHY at all (she is Peak Answer here, for sure), but one actress's name just isn't much, pizzazz-wise. Fill is pretty clean for a 64-worder, but it's also phenomenally dull. Also, I'm somewhat surprised this *is* a 64-worder. Feels like 70, possibly because there are so many black squares, esp. toward the middle, chopping the grid up and resulting in a good number of short answers (not as common in low word-count puzzles). But 70-worders actually tend to be cleaner and more interesting than this. I guess the best that can be said is that those rather wide-open corners are not filled poorly. Still, I don't understand the entertainment value of a lower word-count puzzle like this, where the fill is so ... by the book. In a themed puzzle, I'd be satisfied with this fill, because the main interest of the puzzle would lie elsewhere (i.e. in the damn theme). But with themelesses ... you just gotta do better than this. You need some smashing marquee answers. Something.

DENTAL / PICK?? (53A: With 39-Across, teeth-cleaning aid). What on god's green is that? I know what a tooth pick is, and a water pick (pik?), but a DENTAL PICK? Is that just one of them plastic hooks you pick your teeth with? Why are you doing that? If you're out, toothpicks. If you're home, brush/floss. Crossing MARISSA (4D: ___ Mayer, Yahoo C.E.O. beginning in 2012) and MELISSA seems inelegant—not teeth-picking inelegant, but ... those names are 5/7 identical, come on. The only real groany thing in the grid is GOTAS (ugh ... see, groany) (25A: Received high marks). Oh well, at least IT'S OVER, and I got a sub-5 time I can feel good about (before I go to sleep and forget about it entirely).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Octave's follower in some poetry / THU 12-8-16 / Subj group with noted gener imbalance / Groundbreaking 1990s ABC sitcom / Old-timey not / Hoppy quaff for short

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Constructor: Damon Gulczynski

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Abbreviation-as-word — two-letter abbreviations, where letters are normally pronounced individually, are clues as if they were two-letter words. Wackiness ensues.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Singers who go from "solo" straight to "ti"? (LA DODGERS)
  • 25A: Comedians who do material on the Freudian psyche? (ID CARDS)
  • 37A: "Young 'uns, yer cuzzins are heare" and others? (PA ANNOUNCEMENTS)
  • 46A: Shipping containers on Italy's longest river? (PO BOXES)
  • 58A: What Stephen King's editor provided for a 1986 novel? (IT SUPPORT) 
Word of the Day: RADIOHEAD (3D: Band that used a pay-what-you-want model to sell their 2007 album) —
Radiohead are an English rock band from Abingdon, Oxfordshire, formed in 1985. The band consists of Thom Yorke (lead vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards), Jonny Greenwood (lead guitar, keyboards, other instruments), Ed O'Brien (guitar, backing vocals), Colin Greenwood (bass), and Phil Selway (drums, percussion, backing vocals). They have worked with producer Nigel Godrich and cover artist Stanley Donwood since 1994. // After signing to EMI in 1991, Radiohead released their debut single "Creep" in 1992. It became a worldwide hit after the release of their debut album, Pablo Honey (1993). Their popularity and critical standing rose in the United Kingdom with the release of their second album, The Bends (1995). Radiohead's third album, OK Computer (1997), propelled them to international fame; with an expansive sound and themes of modern alienation, it is often acclaimed as a landmark record of the 1990s[1] and one of the best albums of all time. The group's next albums Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001), recorded simultaneously, marked a dramatic change in style, incorporating influences from experimental electronic music, 20th-century classical music, krautrock, and jazz. Despite initially dividing listeners, Kid A was later named the best album of the decade by Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and the Times. [...] Radiohead have sold more than 30 million albums worldwide. Their work places highly in both listener polls and critics' lists of the best music of the 1990s and 2000s. In 2005, they were ranked 73rd in Rolling Stone's list of "The Greatest Artists of All Time"; Jonny Greenwood (48th) and O'Brien were both included in Rolling Stone's list of greatest guitarists, and Yorke (66th) in their list of greatest singers. In 2009, Rolling Stone readers voted the group the second-best artist of the 2000s. (wikipedia)
• • •

Concept feels ancient, and much of the cluing feels quaint (by which I mean highly NYT-crossword-conventional, culturally and chronologically), but the theme is consistent enough, and you do get two nice long Downs in the bargain, so all in all, it's fine, I guess. The two Downs actually feel like they're from a completely different puzzle. It's like a pretty cool themeless from 2016 tried to shove its way into a fusty tea room where people still say POOP when they mean "inside information" and reminisce about Admiral NELSON while leafing through their Poor Richard's Almanacks as "Downton Abbey" plays in the background and NARY a scone crumb is left on one's plate (ELSIE the spokescow is a major figure in this imaginary world). But seriously, RADIOHEAD and IN THE ZONE are nice answers.

I don't like EX-ARMY, but I once put EX-NAVY in a puzzle, so I am formally barred from legitimate expression of dislike here. The puzzle was pretty easy overall. My only slowness came from wrong guesses, or (in one case) completely failing to understand the phrasing of the clue. It took what felt like forever just to get WOLF (once OGRE went in, anything else was hard to imagine) (1D: Villain in some fairy tales). And I compounded difficulties up there by guessing ROAN (?) over ARAB (2D: Spirited horse). ROAN was a "horse" reflex, and I reflexed wrong. I forgot what Poor Richard's Almanack was. Completely. So ADAGES took some crossing. 5x5s are always dicey propositions—no short toeholds to get you started—and so the NE and SW corners were mildly daunting: only one narrow way in, no way out. They definitely took more thought/time than other parts of the grid, particularly the SW, where I had to back in. Looking at that corner now, though, I must've just not looked at the themer initially, because PO BOXES is obvious from the clue (if you've figured out the theme already). Anyway, there was minor flailing down there.

The clue that threw me the most was 35D: Subj. group with a noted gender imbalance (STEM) (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). I see what the clue is *trying* to do here, but ... a "subj. group" can't have a gender imbalance. Science is just Science. Engineering, engineering. The *field* (which is made up of people —teachers, majors, professionals, etc.) can / does have such an imbalance. But between the abbr. "Subj." (awk) to the context-free quality of the clue, I had no idea what I was looking at, what was being asked for, on a literal level. I was further hampered by having a daughter who takes a lot of STEM classes and wants to be an engineer, and who is being bombarded by promotional material from colleges touting the relative gender parity of their engineering programs (shout-out to tiny OLIN College, an engineering school that has the gender balance of their student population at almost 50/50; hey, there's a new way to clue OLIN—you're welcome, crossword constructors). Anyway, for personal reasons, my brain doesn't make the STEM-is-for-boys connection quite so readily as it's supposed to. Also, who says SCHMO when they mean "jerk"? Maybe someone in the Fusty Tearoom? I don't know. But the only appropriate clue for SCHMO that I know is [Joe ___].

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. the "T" in STEM and the "T" in IT SUPPORT mean the same thing. Judges say ... yeah, that's a dupe. Red card!

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